The Beginning of the End Game?

Trump Maladministration

John Kelly  has no control over the so-called president’s twitter fingers. Trump’s Monday morning tweet storm was as unhinged as ever.  He insists the Trump base is bigger and stronger than ever, and of course news media are all against him. Greg Sargent writes,

This comes some 24 hours after Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein made big news by telling “Fox News Sunday” that if the special counsel finds evidence of crimes in the course of his probe into Russian sabotage of our election, it may be within the scope of his investigation to pursue them.

In these seemingly disparate developments, it is hard not to discern the potential for a volatile, combustible combination.

Because Trump is undermining our democratic norms and processes in so many ways, it is often easy to focus on each of them in isolation, rather than as part of the same larger story. But, taken together, they point to a possible climax in which Trump, cornered by revelations unearthed by Robert S. Mueller III’s probe and by ongoing media scrutiny, seeks to rally his supporters behind the idea that this outcome represents not the imposition of accountability by functioning civic institutions, but rather an effort to steal the election from him — and from them.

This really could get ugly.

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Here’s Your Ticket to the Fever Swamp

Trump Maladministration

I was cruising around the Web this morning and saw this headline at Haaretz:

What does this tell you about far-right Bannon affiliates? And why must we pay attention to these people? From the article:

The driving force behind the campaign has been far-right blogger Mike Cernovich, who started sharing links to a website called, McMaster Leaks, which is devoted to attacks on McMaster, on social media.

The website featured a brazen anti-Semitic caricature depicting McMaster and retired General David Petraeus, who is considered close to a number of senior NSC officials – as two puppets being controlled by Jewish billionaire George Soros, who himself is being controlled by “the Rothschilds,” the famously rich Jewish family of bankers. After the caricature was mocked on social media, the website edited it, replacing the word “Rothschilds” on the top of the pyramid with the word “Saudis,” but keeping in Soros depiction in place.

Yet McMaster, according to his rivals on the far-right, isn’t only being controlled by the Rothschilds – it turns out he is also “hostile to Israel,” according to articles that have been published in recent days on Breitbart, the far-right website formerly edited by Bannon, and on the Conservative Review. These articles, quoting “administration officials” and a Facebook post by Israeli journalist Caroline Glick, accuse him of such “sins” as opposing an Israeli request to include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump’s visit to the Western Wall during his visit in Israel earlier this year.

It’s one thing to be anti-Semitic, but to be anti-Semitic but also, apparently, a knee-jerk Zionist requires a scrambling of mental processes possibly unparalleled in modern political history. Well, except perhaps for the so-called patriotic Americans who periodically call for secession. Or this crew:

I bet the guys with the Swastikas would tell you they are pro-Israel, too.

This is also from the Haaretz article:

McMaster, it should be noted, was the Trump administration’s most senior representative and speaker earlier this year at the Israeli embassy’s annual Independence Day event. He was warmly received by the crowd and gave a speech in which he expressed the administration’s strong support for Israel, and promised to always safeguard the Jewish state’s security interests.

Okay, so the United States harbors a very twisted whackjob Right. It has always been among us, I suspect. It’s just that lately the whackjobs have been getting jobs related to national security. The reason the whackjobs are targeting McMaster is that he’s finally been allowed to clean house at the National Security Council, “re-assigning” some people who were of the Michael Flynn-Steve Bannon-“Hail Vinland!” persuasion.

From “The War Against H.R. McMaster” at The Atlantic:

McMaster has cleaned house at the NSC over the past few weeks. Via his deputy Ricky Waddell, he fired director of strategic planning Rich Higgins last month over a memo Higgins wrote alleging a deep-state conspiracy against President Trump. McMaster then dismissed two top officials brought on by the previous national-security adviser, Michael Flynn: the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East, Derek Harvey, who was fired last week; and the senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was let go on Wednesday.

McMaster wanted to fire Cohen-Watnick last April, but apparently Bannon blocked that firing. Cohen-Watnick was involved in the flap about Susan Rice requesting the “unmasking” of certain Americans whose names showed in intelligence reports because they were talking to foreign entities under surveillance.

… But McMaster’s show of force has set off alarm bells among Bannon allies in the pro-Trump media sphere, who favored Flynn and regard the national-security adviser as a globalist interloper. Other White House officials have in the past been targets of theirs—Priebus was, for example—but the vitriol against McMaster has been notable for its speed and intensity. …

… It’s come from all corners. Breitbart News, the website Bannon controlled as executive chairman before joining the Trump campaign, has produced a flurry of negative stories about McMaster over the past two days, accusing him of “purging” dissenters and kowtowing to “holdovers” from the Obama administration. Fox News host Sean Hannity has tweeted about McMaster, saying he might need to go. Radio host Laura Ingraham has also weighed in, tweeting that “Obama holdovers at NSC or State Dept who are leaking shd do real time for these leaks. Why has McMasters fired actual Trump supporters?” The Daily Caller published an interview with two former NSC officials attacking him, accusing him of undermining the president’s foreign-policy agenda. Circa, a site owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting company, published a letter Thursday that McMaster sent months ago to his predecessor Susan Rice, in which he informed her that she could keep her security clearance. It’s a standard letter, but it has caused a furor in light of the ongoing controversy over unmasking.

So far, Trump is standing by McMaster, as are the non-Bannon White House faction — Ivanka, Jared, and I assume new chief of staff John Kelly. We’ll see how long that lasts.

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It’s Grand Jury Time!

Trump Maladministration

Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury to hear testimony on Junior’s meeting with the Russian lawyer, several sources say. Subpoenas have been issued, but so far no one has said who they’ve been issued to.

Note that this grand jury is separate from the one that already was looking into Michael Flynn.

CNN also reports,

Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said.
One year after the FBI opened an investigation, the probe is now managed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate, according to two law enforcement sources.

Note also that there’s a bipartisan move in the Senate to prevent Trump from firing Mueller without cause.

The two proposals — one from Tillis [Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)] and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and the other from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — each seek to check the executive branch’s ability to fire a special counsel, by putting the question to a three-judge panel from the federal courts. They differ in when that panel gets to weigh in on the decision.

Also, too, Senate Republicans snark at Trump.

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Trump’s Signing Statement on the Russia Sanctions Bill

Trump Maladministration

So Trump today signed the Russia sanctions bill, although he attached two lengthy signing statements to it. The full text is here.  The first obviously was written by a lawyer. The second may have been at least partly dictated by Trump.

Noah Bierman wrote for the Los Angeles Times:

Trump signed the bill without cameras, sending out a statement later in the morning saying that despite his belief that parts of the measure were unconstitutional, he was signing it into law for the “sake of national unity.”

He had little choice about signing the bill after nearly unanimous votes in both houses of Congress approved it, all but guaranteeing any veto would be overridden.

The bill prevents American companies from investing in many energy projects that are funded by Russian government interests.

It also prevents Trump from unilaterally lifting the  sanctions, giving Congress an extended period of time to review any presidential action that tries to upend or significantly change existing sanctions.

The signing statement(s) more or less say(s) that Trump will honor key provisions, but he gives himself room to challenge it in the future, on constitutional grounds.

From the first statement:

 My Administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.

This seems to me to give himself room to do whatever he wants.

Finally, my Administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies.

… or he’ll send his own friend Vinnie “the Claw” from Bayonne to rearrange your kneecaps.

The second statement is even better.

Still, the bill remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking….

… I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

This was after the Great Orange Mound of Blubber did absolutely nothing useful to help Republicans in Congress get any of their bills passed (not that I mind). Several pundits wrote that Trump couldn’t help close the deal because he never bothered to learn what was in the health care bill. Conservative writers also have lost any faith in Trump’s so-called deal-making skills. And here he’s once again calling out Congress for not getting the deal done.

I bet a lot of congressional Republicans are starting to hate him.

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Is Trump Ignoring the Russian Sanctions Bill?

Trump Maladministration

Five days ago, Congress sent a sweeping Russian sanctions bill to the White House to be signed into law.

Trump hasn’t signed it yet.

Various White House entities keep insisting that he will sign it. Mike Pence, who is in the Other Georgia, says he will sign it “very soon.”  But he hasn’t yet, and as near as I can tell from googling he hasn’t issued any statements about signing it. He hasn’t even tweeted about it.

For that matter, it appears he hasn’t said anything to anybody about Russia’s expelling U.S. diplomats. A president normally would issue a statement about something like that. But from Trump, not so much as a tweet.

Back to the Russian sanctions bill. Note that the bill includes a Trump filter:

The bill adds new sanctions on Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors aimed at making it more difficult for the country to export weapons, experts said.

It also targets Russia’s energy sector by giving the U.S. the ability to sanction companies involved in developing Russia’s energy export pipelines. The move drew heavy criticism from European investors involved in the construction of a natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that is known as Nord Stream 2.

The bill also limits the president’s ability to scale back any sanctions by enshrining into law sanctions that Obama placed on Russia in December for what U.S. intelligence agencies say was meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

If President Trump wanted to lift sanctions, he would first have to get approval from Congress. Experts said this “congressional review process” is born of worries that Trump would try to act unilaterally.

“The motivation for this part is to constrain Trump and to make sure he isn’t able to strike some grand bargain with Putin,” said Daniel Treisman, a political science professor at UCLA. “It is highly unusual to give the president no leeway to remove sanctions. But he still has considerable freedom to determine how to enforce sanctions.”

This bill passed both houses with broad bipartisan support. It’s like Congress doesn’t trust Trump, or something.

Anyway, it’s my understanding he’s got to sign the bill within 10 days of receiving it, or else the bill is considered to be vetoed, and Congress has to vote again to override the veto. The clock is ticking.

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Did Kelly Get the Mooch Fired?

Trump Maladministration

Reading between the lines of a lot of news stories, my impression is that incoming Chief of Staff John Kelly either had Scaramucci fired as a condition of taking the job, or Scaramucci was unwilling to continue to work at the White House on Kelly’s terms. NPR:

Scaramucci’s departure followed the Monday-morning swearing in of the new White House chief of staff, retired Gen. John F. Kelly. Scaramucci had negotiated an unusual deal to report directly to the president rather than the chief of staff (Reince Priebus at the time).

“Mr. Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team,” a statement from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We wish him all the best.”

Kelly was possibly unwilling to work at the White House unless everyone (but Trump) reported to him; Scaramucci may have been unwilling to work there under that condition. Or, maybe Kelly was unwilling to work with the Mooch under any circumstance.

The more interesting questions of the day are, who the hell would be idiot enough to take the job of White House Communications Director? It’s like a one-way ticket to being a national laughingstock.

Second, will Kelly be able to make a dent in the chaos? Or should we start a betting pool predicting the date he resigns?

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When Truth Bites

Trump Maladministration

A woman who makes a really bad choices in marriage sooner or later faces a sad reality: The boy-child she married will never, ever grow up to be the husband she needs him to be. And then she has to make the choice — stay in a miserable marriage for the sake of the children (and/or the financial security) or bail.

Well, I think collectively Republicans are facing that sad reality. Donald Trump is never, ever going to grow into the job of POTUS, nor can be be managed into playing the role for the cameras. The truth is that Republicans as a party would be better off with a Democratic POTUS than with Trump. Having a Democratic president to blame would not only help them with constituents, but ironically they’d probably be able to pass some of their agenda, rather than none of it.

Don’t forget that Trump and his cronies are aliens to Republican insiders. Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer were the only “establishment” Republican Party guys in the White House, unless you count Mike Pence, and now they are gone. Trump’s public harassment of Jeff Sessions is also causing serious alarm among Republicans.

After the recent “repeal” defeat, Republicans signaled they were ready to move on from health care.  But Trump, after doing just about nothing to help the party’s bills in Congress, isn’t having it. He’s now harassing Senate Republicans into trying again.

For the second day running, the Republican president tweeted his impatience with Congress’ inability to deliver on his party’s seven-year promise to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill commonly known as Obamacare. Members of his administration took to the airwaves to try to compel lawmakers to take action.

But it was unclear whether the White House admonishments would have any impact on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who control both houses signaled last week that it was time to move on to other issues.

He’s not offering any new ideas or approaches, mind you. He just wants a bill to sign. Also, this:

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House budget office, clarified a vague threat issued by President Trump on Twitter on Saturday, saying the president wants members of Congress to bear more of the burden for their heavily subsidized health insurance if they fail to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In one of the 13 tweets he rattled off on Saturday, Trump wrote: “If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

The Affordable Care Act required members of Congress, along with their staff, to buy health-care insurance through the online markets created under the law, the signature legislative achievement of the Obama presidency. But the lawmakers and their staff members generally make too much to qualify for subsidies under the law meant for low-income Americans. So President Barack Obama decided to let individual congressional offices be counted as small businesses, thereby allowing members and their staff to qualify for the subsidies.

On Saturday, Trump threatened to undo that Obama administration decision, effectively yanking away the federal government’s contribution to the insurance plans of members of Congress and their staff. Currently, their employer (i.e., taxpayers) pays 72 percent of their premiums.

“I talked to the president at length about that exact issue yesterday,” Mulvaney said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He continued, “What he’s saying is, look, if Obamacare is hurting people, and it is, then why shouldn’t it hurt insurance companies and, more importantly perhaps for this discussion, members of Congress?”

This is not exactly how to win friends and influence people. I wrote last February that Trump is the boss from hell. By now it’s clear that his only management “skill” is to harass people, which is causing actual management experts to write op eds about why that’s not how to manage people. He has no appreciation of how big organizations with many departments function. He has no clue about how to work with other people to achieve goals.

He is, in short, absolutely useless. If you are a Republican he’s less than useless; he’s a liability. Many Republican politicians have been distancing themselves from Trump for a while now. And much of the old guard of conservatism in media washed their hands of Trump months ago — Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan, George Will, Ross Douthat, Jennifer Rubin, Erick Erickson, and pretty much the entire staff of National Review are all refusing to carry water for their Republican president. (See, for example, the latest NR feature from Kevin D. Williamson, “Death of a F***ing Salesman.”)

And he’s only been POTUS for six months. We’ve got three and a half years to go.

Trump is still somewhat protected from impeachment by the fact that impeachment proceedings must originate in the House, and the average House Republican is a right-wing extremist and nuttier than a peanut farm. The ones from solid red districts, which are a lot of them, will stand by their man for a while longer. As bad as his national approval numbers are, he’s still above 50 percent in seventeen states.

But if the next six months are anything like the last six, pressure to axe Trump is going to build to a critical point within the Republican party. The only question is, will the party make a move to get rid of him before the 2018 midterms, or after?

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Reince Priebus Is Out

Trump Maladministration

Only an idiot would take that job now, which makes this guy an idiot.

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Don’t Mess With Lisa Murkowski

Trump Maladministration

A lot of people are talking about John McCain’s “no” vote on “skinny” repeal. But this is more interesting:

A lot of the media coverage in the wake of the vote will focus on McCain, because he’s the most famous, and Collins was always going to vote “no.” But Murkowski’s opposition was equally decisive and perhaps most illustrative of the problems ahead for Trump.

Trump, who won Alaska by 15 points, ripped the state’s senior senator on Twitter Wednesday after she opposed a key procedural motion to open debate on health care:

Later that day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Murkowski and the state’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, to threaten that the Trump administration may change its position on several issues that affect the state to punish Murkowski, such as blocking energy exploration and plans to allow the construction of new roads. “The message was pretty clear,” Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Nevertheless, Murkowski persisted. In fact, she took it one step further and demonstrated that she has more leverage over Zinke than he has over her. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski indefinitely postponed a nominations markup that the Interior Department badly wants.

And the moral is …

Only an amateur would threaten the person who has oversight over his agency!

Note that Murkowski isn’t up for re-election until 2022.

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Did the Joint Chief Just Diss Trump?

Trump Maladministration

It’s subtle, but the Chiefs do seem a tad huffy.

As you probably heard, yesterday the Embarrassment in Chief tweeted that there would be no more transgendered people in the military.

First question: Who does he mean by “my generals”? ‘Cause the Joint Chiefs didn’t see this coming. I presume he means the generals in his cabinet. But a policy about personnel should have been run by the Joint Chiefs first, I think.

The Chair of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, sent a message to the chiefs of the military branches and senior enlisted leaders saying that the military does not respond to tweets. Also, the military will continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”

“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Dunford wrote in the internal communication, a copy of which was provided to POLITICO. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions,” he continued.

One suspects that if Gen. Dunford agreed with the policy change, he would have written a somewhat different message. But he might have been just pissed off about being given an order by tweet. Big, complex organizations like the United States military require protocols and procedures to function. I suspect tweeting isn’t in the handbook.

Second question — what “medical cost”? Apparently this ban came about because some House Republicans were on some kind of rampage about the military spending money on medical services related to transitioning. The Washington Post pointed out that the military spends ten times more on erectile dysfunction treatments.  And that’s five times more on Viagra alone. Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago cost taxpayers more than trans soldiers health care.

It appears the White House expected cheering and wild applause from the Right and figured it would make a great wedge issue next year …

… but so far, the response has been relatively subdued. And some prominent GOP lawmakers, including Orrin Hatch, John McCain, Joni Ernst and Richard Shelby, publicly disagreed with the ban. So much for wedgies, eh?

We’ll see if the White House even bothers to go through with this nonsense now.

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